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IndyCar community reflects on Leffler, an open-wheel star in the 1990s

Jun 13, 2013, 9:45 AM EDT

Firestone 550 Getty Images

The racing community is very tight knit and when a loss of anyone occurs, it hits everyone in some way, shape or form. Though Jason Leffler‘s NASCAR career was where he made most of his living from 2001 onward, he was a rising open-wheel star from the late 1990s through 2000.

Leffler, from Long Beach, Calif., started out racing USAC midgets. He promptly won three consecutive USAC Midget championships from 1997 to 1999, and in 1999, also won two of short track racing’s biggest events: the Turkey Night Grand Prix and the Copper World Classic.

He met Roger Penske in 1998 at the Hut 100, and his progress also caught the eye of Joe Gibbs. Leffler made his IndyCar debut as the replacement for a fairly big name in the sport, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk, at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1999. A year later, in a car that had Penske support but was not Penske-entered, Leffler made his debut in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and finished 17th.

A statement from INDYCAR said the following: “INDYCAR extends its deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Jason Leffler for their tragic loss. Jason was a USAC champion who made three INDYCAR starts, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

This was from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and its COO Doug Boles: “We are very saddened at the passing of Jason Leffler. He was one of the most versatile race drivers in America, showing his talent by competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his career. He also displayed the skills that would help him reach the top levels of the sport by winning four USAC national series titles while winning on tracks throughout the Midwest. Jason was a terrific guy who always had time for everyone. Our deepest sympathies are extended to his entire family, team and fans.”

Lastly, Panther Racing fielded Leffler in several USAC Silver Crown races in 2004. From Panther’s managing partner/CEO John Barnes: “I was shocked to hear tonight about the passing of Jason Leffler. Jason was a friend and former driver of Panther Racing. He was one of the most versatile drivers I have ever met. He reminded me so much of Parnelli Jones. We will miss his fierce competitive spirit and his devilish attitude. He constitutes the old saying, ‘It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’ Jason was a small man with a huge right foot. Our prayers go out to his entire family, and especially his son Charlie.  He will be forever missed.”

Few of the current IndyCar drivers had the chance to race Leffler directly, but they share the sadness and the memories nonetheless. A sampling of tweets from the IndyCar community, drivers and teams, are below:

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Massa delighted as Williams enjoys best qualifying of season at Silverstone

    Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 4, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    Massa will start tomorrow’s British Grand Prix from third place on the grid ahead of Williams teammate Valtteri Bottas.

  2. Rosberg: Narrow defeat to Hamilton in qualifying ‘annoying’

    Jul 4, 2015, 10:15 AM EDT

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton (R) shakes hands with Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg after the qualifying session at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 4, 2015 ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix. Hamilton took pole ahead of teammate Rosberg with Massa in third place.
 AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    German driver misses out on pole position by just 0.113 seconds on Saturday at Silverstone.

  3. Hamilton hails “a special day” after scoring Silverstone pole

    Jul 4, 2015, 9:47 AM EDT

    xxxx during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 4, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    Hamilton thanks fans for support as over 100,000 come out for qualifying on Saturday at Silverstone.

  4. Hamilton storms to home pole position at British GP

    Jul 4, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton drives during the third practice session at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 4, 2015 ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix.      AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Hamilton edges out Rosberg for top spot in Q3 on Saturday at Silverstone.

  5. WATCH LIVE: British GP Qualifying on CNBC and Live Extra from 8am ET

    Jul 4, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 04:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks to the garage from the motorhome during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 4, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Can Lewis Hamilton storm to his eighth pole position of the 2015 Formula 1 season on Saturday at Silverstone?

  6. Hamilton closes out British GP practice fastest

    Jul 4, 2015, 6:02 AM EDT

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton drives during the third practice session at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 4, 2015 ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix.      AFP PHOTO / ANDREJ ISAKOVIC        (Photo credit should read ANDREJ ISAKOVIC/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    British driver back on top at Silverstone as Rosberg suffers another gearbox problem.

  7. WATCH LIVE: FP3 for the British Grand Prix on Live Extra from 5am ET

    Jul 4, 2015, 4:45 AM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives in the pit lane during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Rosberg looks to make it a clean sweep of practice sessions on Saturday morning.

  8. GP2: Sirotkin on pole for Silverstone feature race

    Jul 3, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Sirotkin claims his first pole in the GP2 Series on Friday ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne and Richie Stanaway.

  9. Red Bull GRC: Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross excited for first race at military base

    Jul 3, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

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    Foust seeks another win, Speed looks for bounce back from tough Daytona at MCAS.

  10. Filippi elated after first oval test, calling it “like a roller coaster x 10″

    Jul 3, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT

    DETROIT, MI - MAY 29:  Luca Filippi, of Italy,  is shown in the pits during practice for Verizon IndyCar At Detroit Belle Isle on May 29, 2015 in Detroit, MI, United States.  (Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images) Getty Images

    The street and road course specialist gets his first taste of an oval in Iowa this week.

  11. Alonso unsure McLaren will reach Q2 at Silverstone

    Jul 3, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    McLaren Honda's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso drives during the second practice session at the Silverstone circuit in Silverstone on July 2, 2015 ahead of the British Formula One Grand Prix.      AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL        (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Spaniard expects a close fight with Sauber during qualifying on Saturday.

  12. Wolff enjoys final practice run-out of 2015 season

    Jul 3, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    Wolff finishes eight-tenths of a second behind regular Williams driver Felipe Massa in FP1 on Friday.

  13. Hamilton more comfortable with old clutch setup

    Jul 3, 2015, 1:22 PM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    British driver switches back to the old setting on his Mercedes after struggling in the past four races.

  14. Raikkonen: I wouldn’t be racing in F1 if I didn’t want to be

    Jul 3, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 02:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrar speaks at a press conference during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 2, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Raikkonen hits back at questions about his motivation as rumors of a possible driver change at Ferrari begin to circulate.

  15. Mercedes handed reprimand for covering Rosberg’s car

    Jul 3, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP returns to the garage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Rosberg’s car was covered over following a stoppage in FP1.

  16. Rosberg fastest once again in second British GP practice

    Jul 3, 2015, 10:32 AM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Two red flags interrupt running in FP2, but it is Nico Rosberg who leads the way once again.

  17. WATCH LIVE: FP2 for the British Grand Prix on NBCSN and Live Extra from 9am ET

    Jul 3, 2015, 8:45 AM EDT

    xxxx during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 3, 2015 in Northampton, England. Getty Images

    Can Nico Rosberg top the timesheets once again in second practice at Silverstone?

  18. Rosberg tops FP1 at Silverstone after gearbox change

    Jul 3, 2015, 6:35 AM EDT

    NORTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JULY 02:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP speaks with members of his team outside the garage during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Great Britain at Silverstone Circuit on July 2, 2015 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    First blood to Rosberg despite missing most of FP1 due to a problem on his car.

  19. WATCH LIVE: FP1 for the British Grand Prix on Live Extra from 5am ET

    Jul 3, 2015, 4:46 AM EDT

    SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 19:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP gets in his car in the hgarage during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images) Getty Images

    First practice at Silverstone kicks off at 5am ET on Friday.

  20. NHRA: Tony Pedregon hopes to keep momentum going in Norwalk

    Jul 2, 2015, 11:08 PM EDT

    Tony Pedregon (Photo courtesy Tony Pedregon official Twitter account) Tony Pedregon (Photo courtesy Tony Pedregon official Twitter account)

    The way his season had been going, two-time NHRA Funny Car champ Tony Pedregon was threatening to become a “Whatever Happened To?” question.